The African immigrant crisis continues in Sicily and Lampedusa. At its peak the island of Lampedusa, which usually has 2,000 inhabitants and a plumbing infrastructure to fit, was also home to 5,000 refugees from Libya. The plumbing could not cope and people had no alternative but to use the beaches as toilets.
The Lampedusan economy depends exclusively on tourism and if their beaches are spoiled, they will starve. It was only when things got this bad, and the Lampedusans panicked about the risk of a cholera or dysentery epidemic, that they started telling boatloads of Africans to go away.
I think this human tragedy is doubly sad and ironic, because it was the African conquerors who built so much of Sicily’s first hygienic plumbing, in early Medieval times. They constructed public laundries all around Sicily, and many of them were used until the 1950’s, when Sicilians started to have running water in their houses. Some of them were used right up until the shoulder-padded eighties!
Can you imagine washing your rah-rah skirt in this? Try not to splash your pixie boots!
Several of the African laundries are still open to the public, but the most famous and probably the most accessible is the one in Cefalù. The medieval laundry sits in the very centre of town, built over the river which was corralled into channels which filled a series of rectangular basins. The women would begin downstream, soaping up their clothes, then move to a sink upstream to rinse them. The water taps at the highest point were for people to collect drinking water in vessels to take home.
Cefalù is a touristy town packed with excellent restaurants, a beautiful cathedral and lots of interesting shops. It also has several gorgeous beaches.
It is an ideal place for a singles holiday because you can so easily meet other people. I think enrolling in one of the towns language schools to learn some Italian might be the best way to make friends fast. There are also windsurfing schools for the sporty, cookery courses and art classes: it’s best to look for these online as they come and go rapidly, so tour guide books are usually out of date.
The cathedral has a Byzantine mosaic in the cupola. The rest of the interior is very plain as it suffered damage in the past.
Cefalù is packed with excellent restaurants, many of which overlook the sea and most of which are much cheaper than you might expect.
When the Normans wrested Sicily from the Africans in the 12th century, they made Cefalù one of their military strongholds.
With thanks to my very talented friend Adrienne, who took most of the photos in this post.